Cast: Timothy Olyphant, Ian McShane, Molly Parker, Dayton Callie, Kim Dickens, Brad Dourif, John Hawkes, Paula Malcolmson, and Robin Weigert, Keone Young, William Sanderson, Gerald McCraney etc.
Cinematography: David Klein
Original Network: HBO
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
David Milch’s formidable Western TV classic was a show I’d never ever seen. So, I took great pleasure drinking in its’ flavours and palette at the end of 2017. I was so glad I did because Deadwoodis one of the most brilliantly written shows I’ve seen; and while the dialogue is clearly anachronistic it feels paradoxically authentic. Throughout the thirty-six episodes the monologues sing from the screen as a litany of character actors drawl and deliver words of filth, comedy and great tragedy. At times the dialogue is so dense it reaches sonorous Shakespearean heights.
After three brilliant seasons of Wild West slice-of-life the show was cancelled and the various narrative strands were left loose. But Deadwood (2019) returns one final time with a movie that further elucidates desperate times brimming with whores, bandits, con-artists, killers and a twisted and violent rendition of the American dream. With most of the original cast returning and the action set some ten years after the final season ended in 1889, here we find scores to be settled, relationships to be consolidated and revenging to be done.
The main thrust of the film shows nefarious Senator George Hearst at constant loggerheads with the townsfolk, especially the noble but angry Marshall Bullock; Trixie the prostitute who tried to kill Hearst; and Ian McShane’s gutter-mouthed bar owner, Al Swearengen. Al’s body and health are crumbling due to his heavy drinking and he becomes more a liver-failed spectator amidst the dirty narrative twists and turns.
Given it was more about the characters, performance and dialogue I actually didn’t mind the open-ending provided by the cancellation of the show. I liked that their lives just went on off-screen until they became the proverbial quintessence of dust. However, there is much to enjoy in getting a belly full of these hard-bitten, drunken characters again. As send-offs go the film is a filthy joy. I especially enjoyed seeing Timothy Olyphant as Bullock, Paula Malcolmson as Trixie, Ian McShane as Al; and the marvellous Robin Weigert as Calamity Jane. They all enrich the proceedings with incredible acting performances.
Deadwood may represent a series of distant Wild West memories but its’ grizzled and bloody vision of humanity is just as valid today. The streets of society now may have pavement and tarmac and skyscrapers but they are still besmirched with blood and greed and revenge of the Wild West. While arguably unnecessary this final film is an ebullient and entertaining drift back to the past with enough spittle, blood, anger, justice, love, profanity and mud to please the die-hard Deadwood fans.
Cast: Elizabeth Banks, David Denman, Jackson A. Dunn, Matt Jones, Meredith Hagner, Gregory Alan Williams etc.
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
What if Superman was evil? As concepts go Brightburn (2019) has a simple but highly impressive one. The trailer too was brilliant and it was only when I saw a few negative reviews did I baulk at going to see the brisk B-movie-super-hero-horror-film. So, does a great pitch, and cool trailer lead to a great movie? In part yes; and in part no!
With the indie-turned-blockbuster director, James Gunn, in the wings producing the film, Brightburn clearly has a pedigree in superhero, comedy and horror film-making. I loved his low budget gem Super (2010) and his work helming the Guardians of the Galaxy films is also impressive. One wonders if Brightburn may have worked better with James Gunn directing but we will never know.
Set, unsurprisingly in Brightburn, Kansas, the story completely steals the Superman origin narrative and twists it in a fun and gory way. Farming couple Tori and Kyle Breyer are desperate for a kid and have failed to conceive naturally. Fortunately, or so it seems at first, a child falls from the skies, and rather than tell the authorities they adopt the kid as their own.
Flash-forward and Brandon is now twelve years old and puberty is fast approaching; cue bodily changes but not the kind his parents were expecting. As Brandon deals with school bullies and his first crush he suddenly begins going into trances and attempting to unlock that red glowy thing in the barn. What could it all mean? Mayhem! Bloody mayhem is what it means!
I really enjoyed Brightburn. It’s script is a bit dumb and some of the character choices are pretty ridiculous, especially when Brandon starts behaving violently at school and around the house. However, I loved the fast-pace, the concept, the dark horror, the red-masked image system, and the gore. Moreover, while many were given away in the trailer, there are some brilliant set-pieces and scares throughout.
Some of the negative reviews I have seen may have come from the wrong angle on Brightburn. Its not really meant to be taken seriously despite the compelling and dramatic performance from Elizabeth Banks. For me it’s to be watched as an imaginative low-budget B-movie feature, somewhat reminiscent of those “kids-go-bad” 1980’s horrors I used to rent from local video store.
There’s an element of depth as it touches on themes relating to puberty, adoption and the trials of parenthood; ultimately though it’s about the rise of an evil anti-hero in a gas mask with glowing red eyes!! In a nutshell, Brightburn is one for B-movie horror fans everywhere and I definitely want them to expand the universe.
TO BOLDLY REVIEW #6 – STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION – SEASON 1
Based on Star Trek & Created by: Gene Roddenberry
Season 1 writers (selected): John F. Black, Diane Duane, D.C. Fontana, Maurice Hurley, Robert Lewin, Richard Manning, Kathryn Powers, Gene Roddenberry, Joseph Stefano, Tracy Torme etc.
Season 1 directors (selected): Colin Bucksey, Rob Bowman, Cliff Bole, Les Landau, Kim Manners, Win Phelps, Mike Vejar etc.
Main Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Denise Crosby, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Wil Wheaton etc.
Music/Composers: Alexander Courage, Jerry Goldsmith, Dennis McCarthy, Ron Jones, Jay Chattaway
Production Company(s): Paramount Television, CBS Television
**THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS**
“MAKE IT SO. . .”
So, my cultural journey beyond the stars continues with a review of the first season of Star Trek: Next Generation. It took some serious time for what was originally known as Phase II to take off. Indeed, they finally hit warp speed during the late 1980’s. Roddenberry, the original Enterprise crew, plus swarms of Paramount employees had kept themselves busy with the ‘Original Series’ cinema releases, but, in 1986, a new TV series was announced.
Then, almost a year later in September 1987, Star Trek: Next Generation was released. TNG featured: a new crew, a more advanced class of Enterprise, and a variety of new aliens, planets and galaxies to boldly explore. While there was an initial decree to avoid all the old enemies from the original series, the Klingons, Romulans and more, slowly bled into the show as it was further developed.
Much has been written about Star Trek in general and the internet is brimming with articles, features, interviews, podcasts, fan films and documentaries which would take an immortal’s lifetime to read. So, my approach to this piece is to concentrate on the characters, narratives, themes and concepts which leapt out while watching it.
Overall, I really enjoyed most of Star Trek: Next Generation – Season 1. I have read that die-hard fans were resistant to the idea their favourite show from the 1960’s was getting a makeover. However, Paramount/CBS Studios chucked $1.3 million at each episode and shot on 35MM film, thus demonstrating a commitment to a quality product.
Even watching it now I am impressed by the production values, cast, direction and science fiction concepts. Obviously some of the effects are a bit dated compared to what we experience today but I always prefer in-camera effects and prosthesis, anyway. Having said that Star Trek has always been about strong ideas and themes for me.
In terms of story and character there are some very strong episodes and some pretty weak ones. Gene Roddenberry, his producers and raft of writers were, reported to be consistently at loggerheads throughout the production. So much so very few of the original TNG writing team remained by the end. It’s a testament to the rock-solid formula of the show that such issues did not hinder the ultimate consistency of entertainment while I was watching.
My main criticism is that some episodes felt like first drafts. Plus, there was, on occasions, a few episodes which were top heavy in set-up and rushed toward the end. Nonetheless, Roddenberry’s original format is always fascinating and you could certainly feel that when they successfully married: the science fiction concepts, characters, tone and dialogue you got many great episodes.
THE FAMILY UNIT
Holding the narratives and show together was an exceptionally brilliant set of actors. I mean, in the cold light of space, Star Trek: Next Generation could be deemed just men, women and aliens in silly outfits. Of course, we know it’s much more intelligent than that. So with acting heavyweight Patrick Stewart leading the way, all the cast were committed to their roles formidably. They had to be for it to work so well.
To me TNG was structured around a quasi-family unit, as opposed to the naval/military hierarchy of the ‘Original Series’. Captain Jean-Luc Picard majestically leads from the front with authority and a keen sense of fair play. Dr Beverly Crusher is the pseudo-matriarch, both professional and caring. Further, the other main members of the crew are, very loosely speaking, the children.
Riker I’d suggest is the first son and heir apparent, closely followed in the hierarchy by Geordi. The likes of data and Wesley are the younger, gifted children, full of intelligence and enquiry. The sensitive, Troi and tougher Yasha represent the older daughters, while I’m not quite sure how the Klingon, Worf, fits in. Perhaps, he’s a bastard son or long lost cousin seeking affirmation of the family unit. Thus, these characters as a ‘family’ support the spine of the show, all combining with varying strength and characteristics to form a whole that propels both drama and emotion.
THE REST IS HISTORY. . .
Star Trek: Next Generation consisted of TWENTY-SIX episodes!! While no doubt well paid, this remains an incredible workload for the cast and crew. Initially, the season got off to a difficult start in terms of ratings and reviews. Nonetheless, by the end of the season , the class of the production and format shone through. Furthermore, it would be nominated for seven Emmy TV awards. Ratings would also improve and it became the highest rated syndication series by the end of the run. To conclude, I would like to look at six episodes from season 1 which I felt stood out while I watched them.
THE BIG GOODBYE – EPISODE 12
The ‘Holodeck‘ plays a huge part in the series as a whole. It’s a fantastic way to marry the past and future together. In this clever episode Picard attempts to escape into one of his favourite film noir simulations but gets more than he bargained for. Then when the holodeck malfunctions, Picard and his crew find themselves in the midst of a simulated “real-life” and perilous gangster mystery.
DATALORE – EPISODE 13
I love a good Jekyll and Hyde story and this one explores the origin of much respected android, Data. Brett Spiner is such a good television actor and he nails both roles as Data and his “brother” Lore, who, as genre conventions require, is basically bad Data and hell-bent on taking control of the Enterprise.
HEART OF GLORY – EPISODE 20
Obviously the stories involving the Federation are always interesting but often I really enjoy the more personal narratives. In this episode Michael Dorn as Worf finds his allegiances between the Enterprise and fellow Klingons tested. It’s a fine character exploration as we get to see Worf’s warrior persona versus the more reasoned Starfleet side.
THE ARSENAL OF FREEDOM – EPISODE 21
War, or threat of war has always been at the heart of many great episodes. The concept that a planet of arms dealers who are killed by their own hi-tech product was a great idea. It also gave the crew and Enterprise major threats on the planet they visit and in space. The action, character development and suspense make this a very thrilling episode all-round.
SYMBIOSIS – EPISODE 22
Social commentary was a key component of the ‘Original Series’. Many episodes tapped into the zeitgeist of the 1960’s issues relating to war, race, religion and gender etc. TNG continued this tradition with Symbiosis which expertly explores the nature of narcotic addiction and how it can be exploited to negative effect by an alien race. I especially enjoyed the grey ending where the ‘Prime Directive‘ comes into play.
CONSPIRACY – EPISODE 25
A major rule throughout Star Trek is that the Federation is not to be shown as corrupt. There have been exceptions to this in certain feature films and they get around this in Conspiracy with the Federation top brass invaded by parasitic aliens. The narrative was very strong and felt like a feature film story in scale. I also loved the David Cronenberg-style monsters appearance in the gory finale.
Created by: Brian Koppelman, David Levien, Andrew Ross Sorkin
Writers: Brian Koppelman, David Levien, Andrew Ross Sorkin, Lenore Zion, Michael Russell Gunn, Adam R. Perlman, Alice O’Neill etc.
Directors: Colin Bucksey, Adam Bernstein, Neil Burger, Matthew McLoota, Jessica Yu, Laurie Collyer, Naomi Geraghty
Starring: Paul Giamatti, Damian Lewis, Maggie Siff, Malin Åkerman, Toby Leonard Moore, David Costabile, Condola Rashād, Asia Kate Dillon, Jeffrey DeMunn, John Malkovich, Kelly Aucoin, Stephen Kunken, Nina Arianda, Kevin Pollak, Clancy Brown etc.
Distributor: Showtime Network
**CONTAIN SPOILERS of BILLIONS – SEASONS 1 – 3**
One of the great sober pleasures in life and culture is finding a great television show and digging into it from the start. Don’t get me wrong, I love doing catch-up binges of programmes I missed first time. Indeed, I recently just finished imbibing seven mercurial seasons of the amazing Mad Men. Yet, having watched it from the outset, Billions, has now become a high priority watch for me every year.
Season 4 once again delivers all that I want from my Billionsfixation. If you haven’t seen it then it is essentially about spoilt, rich narcissists at the higher echelons of American justice and business trying to destroy each other. The first three seasons found Paul Giamatti’s legal demon battling Damian Lewis’ financial titan. It’s good old fashioned revenge drama, with a reliance on proper plotting, sharp dialogue and an amazing ensemble cast.
The latest season begins with amazingly, Chuck and Bobby, enjoying a kind of peace, assisting each other against various foes. All the same themes are in place with greed and power destroying love and trust, except, if I’m not mistaken, the narrative beats are even faster-paced and brutal. Amidst the back-stabbing dramatics though the writers do find some time for wicked humour; especially in the very funny episodes,Chickentownand American Champion.
But the main reason for watching is to experience these corporate and legal vipers bite each others faces off. Indeed, the devious plots that are set in motion are quite breath-taking. The writing is as twisted as a corkscrew plunged into the forehead. Moreover, the cast just relish playing these characters with Lewis, Giamatti, Maggie Siff and David “Wags” Constabile regularly stealing scenes from each other.
As Bobby’s 4 nemesis, Taylor Mason, Asia Kate Dillon was also brilliant. The sub-plot involving her fathers’ (Kevin Pollak) start-up technology firm was especially strong, proving that mixing family and business relationships are doomed in this world. I’d also say Chuck’s battle with Attorney General Jock Jeffcoate (Clancy Brown), was arguably a major highlight of a very strong season. Perhaps John Malkovich’s Russian Oligarch could have been given more to do, but overall, the Machiavellian machinations of Billionshad me gripped from start to finish. It was, literally, the absolute business!
Created and written by: Mathew Baynton, Simon Farnaby, Martha Howe-Douglas, Jim Howick, Laurence Rickard & Ben Willibond
Directed by: Tom Kingsley
Producer: Matthew Mulot
Starring: Lolly Adefope, Mathew Baynton, Simon Farnaby, Martha Howe-Douglas, Laurence Rickard, Charlotte Ritchie, Kiell Smith-Bynoe, Ben Willibond, Katy Wix etc.
Original Network: Six Episodes on BBC1
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
After the horror viewing that was Chernobyl (2019), police corruption inLine of Duty (2019), and general death and drama of Game of Thrones (2019), I decided I needed a bit of a laugh. So, I watched six lovely episodes of the hilarious BBC comedy show called Ghosts (2019). Not to say there isn’t death in the show; after all it is about ghosts! But it’s a fantasy comedy that is so likeable and full of daft characters that you cannot help but feel your spirits lifted after watching it.
The story concerns a late twenty-something couple, Alison (Charlotte Ritchie) and Mike (Kiell Smith-Bynoe), who, like many people in the city are financially stretched and looking for somewhere to live. With property prices high and a severe lack of wealth, all they can afford is the equivalent to an urban rabbit hutch. Then, suddenly, Alison inherits a gigantic house in the country from a forgotten Aunt and fortune seems to shine on them. But it’s not all it is cracked up to be. The house is a crumbling mess of a |”money pit”; plus they have some spectral “guests” who do not want them there.
Joining the very likable couple is a tremendous ensemble of gifted comedy actors who portray multiple characters, notably the ghosts who died and are consequently trapped on the property. The sheer number of characters means they all vie for laughs; however, the writing is witty and fast-paced with a succession of verbal, physical and slapstick humour. There are some particularly inventive running gags and I especially loved the ghosts from the plague pit in the basement, who happen to be plumbing experts due to close proximity to the boiler. Other characters veer toward stereotypes, notably Simon Farnaby’s sleazy, trouser-less MP, yet, the brilliant comedic performances breathe energy and life into the all the ghostly incarnations.
Comedic ghost stories are hardly the most original template. Indeed, I grew up watching and enjoying the very silly Rentaghost (1976 – 1984). Plus, films such as:Blithe Spirit (1945), Ghostbusters (1984) and Beetlejuice (1988), all use the supernatural within humorous scenarios. So, if you want similar entertainment I’m NOT afraid to say in terms of the head-spinning rate of gags and funny situations, Ghosts, is frighteningly good.
2018-2019 – TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR F.C. – SEASON REVIEW
This year I have really tested my discipline by embarking on a sober year of not drinking alcohol. This is a personal challenge for health, financial and for-the-hell-of-it reasons. One thing I have noticed from this experiment is that drinking alcohol and the level of enjoyment when watching football are inextricably linked.
High or drunk on booze can heighten the enjoyment of football to riotous levels. Although, it can also create lows of soul-crushing despondency in the face of my teams’ defeat. Ultimately, while sober a football game becomes more a cerebral dissection rather than an emotional rollercoaster.
Thus, being a Tottenham Hotspur F.C. fan I have found that since being sober my support has been more logical and Mr Spock-like. That isn’t to say I haven’t enjoyed a fantastic season of giddy high and the occasional lows. Here’s a little review of how Spurs season went for 2018/2019.
SCORES ON THE DOORS – 2018/2019
Premier League finishing position: 4th
Premier League total points: 71
Premier League goals: 67
Champions League: THE FINAL – IT WASN’T A DREAM!
FA CUP: 4th round
Carabao Cup: Semi-final
Top Scorer: HARRY KANE – 24 goals in all competitions.
Most Assists: CHRISTIAN ERIKSEN – 16 assists in all competitions.
Highest Attendance: 81,332 v. Arsenal – Premier League – Wembley, March 2019.
SEASON HIGHLIGHTS – 2018/2019
Where do I start? The Champions League, of course! While we would ultimately lose in an underwhelming game to Liverpool in Madrid, Spurs had a charmed and gutsy run to the final. I mean who could ever forget needing three goals in the second half to beat Ajax away and coming back to win. LUCAS MOURA’s last minute goal in injury time is one I WILL NEVER FORGET! Allied to that incredible night, Spurs almost got beaten by Manchester City in the previous round, when a last-minute offside goal was correctly ruled out by VAR. Lastly, we almost went out against Inter Milan and Barcelona in the group stages too, but last ditch goals saw us through.
Overall, throughout the season we mainly battled and scrambled to many results in the Premier and Champions League. We rarely hit the performance heights on the pitch compared to previous seasons. While we were very solid, it was only in games against: Everton (6-2 away win), Bournemouth (5-0 home win), Chelsea (3-1 home win) and Borussia Dortmund (last 16 Champions League win), where we really demonstrated total dominance throughout games.
Sadly, our indifferent performance standards, were not helped by key injuries to: HARRY KANE, DELE ALLI, HARRY WINKS and JAN VERTONGHEN, led to THIRTEEN DEFEATS in the Premier League. Thankfully, we held onto fourth place due to our rivals being a bit rubbish too.
The other major highlight of the season was the new stadium was FINALLY completed at White Hart Lane. I have not been yet as tickets have always sold out, but I look forward to going next season! Wembley was great and I went to some amazing games, but there’s no place like home – and what a home it is!
MANAGER, PLAYERS AND TEAM
Firstly, MAURICIO POCHETTINO and his coaching staff, in my view, are incredible. For whatever reason, by choice or Chairman Daniel Levy’s decree, we did not SIGN ANY NEW PLAYERS! I think this was a mistake. Our squad, while of high quality, became very stretched due to injuries and a fixture list pile-up. This meant Pochettino was forever juggling the players at his disposal; so it is full credit to his management that we had the season we did.
There were many fine players for Spurs. Some were not as sharp due to injuries and those jaded by England’s almost glorious World Cup campaign. HEUNG-MIN SON was voted our PLAYER OF THE YEAR for his buccaneering attacking play. He was brilliant throughout, scoring goals and scorching defences with his wicked pace.
MOUSSA SISSOKO was very close to winning best player of the season with a series of revelatory performances in midfield. TOBY ALDERWEIRELD was outstanding in defence, while HUGO LLORIS was so solid too; even saving a couple of crucial penalties during the season. Despite some terrible ankle injuries HARRY KANE was our top goal scorer and CHRISTIAN ERIKSEN, despite his form deserting him at the end of the season, remained our most creative midfielder.
Special mention must go to LUCAS MOURA who scored vital goals throughout the year. He was SO unlucky not to start the Champions League Final, especially after his heroics in Amsterdam. I mean, he was the player that SCORED A HAT-TRICK IN THE SEMI-FINAL. He definitely should have started in the final.
THE FUTURE AND BEYOND. . .
I have come to accept that Tottenham Hotspur F.C. is a proud and high quality team to support. It is a shame we are very much a nearly team though on the pitch, finding opponents with that bit more quality or luck when it matters most. But, we are a very well run business with an incredible new stadium. Indeed, the T.H.F.C. brand has never been shinier and the future hasn’t been brighter.
I would expect rather than hope we can purchase three or four top class players to add to our squad because the manager cannot fire us to glory without the ammunition on the pitch. There is only so much magic MAURICIO POCHETTINO can perform year after year.
YOU HAVE A NEW FOLLOWER (2020) – A NEW SHORT FILM PRODUCTION
While my most recent short film production Tolerance (2019) has yet to be released online, I am still hopeful of further short film screenings. It was recently screened at the Unrestricted View Festival 2019 in London and was also nominated for an award for set design and art direction.
Tolerance (2019) will be released online in the next few months. Details of the film can be found HERE.
Also, the trailer can be seen here:
Over the last year I have been working with the excellent Swedish actress Tilde Jensen on a new short film. It has been a fascinating process as I was ready to film in February 2019. But, after shooting a test video I decided the film wasn’t dramatic enough. So, I re-wrote the script to try and make it more cinematic. I finally settled on a script that was an improvement in our view and rather than just be voice-over based, it now has a lot more suspense, energy and mystery.
You Have a New Follower is a mystery thriller set over one fateful day. Astrid Nilsson is a freelance writer, pitching to clients around London. However, she is unaware she is being followed. Only when she is surprised by her follower do events take a twisted turn.
Inspired by filmmakers such as Hitchcock and DePalma, of all the scripts I have written I was say this is the most ambiguous and mysterious one. I have deliberately not filled in the narrative gaps, so I’m hoping that the audience will still feel the fear our main character does from her predicament. Thematically, the story is about the threat of being followed by the unknown and how one would handle such a situation.
Choice of shots, music, performance and editing style will be paramount. I am relying on the cinematic style to convey the emotion rather than explaining the story in the dialogue. I like to think that I have exhibited interesting style in the previous short films but I always closed any narrative or story gaps. In this film I take more of a creative risk.
We shot over two days during the recent May 2019 Bank Holiday. I assembled a small but fantastic crew. We were a truly international team with crew from: Greece, Italy, Denmark, Sweden and England. Low budget filmmaking can be incredibly difficult but very rewarding. As with my prior short films the whole crew worked together brilliantly and I was very happy with the shots we got.
In order to make any shoot work smoothly I had prepared a scene-by-scene breakdown and shot list. I had also done reconnaissance on the London locations at: King’s Cross, London South Bank and Leake Street Arches, Waterloo. The locations were important and integral to creating the city look I wanted for the film. I wanted the character to feel trapped by her surroundings but also use locations which looked impressive. Despite being moved on a couple of times by security staff I believe we achieved this, despite some compromises.
The internal locations were shot on the second day. Here is where the main drama of the story unfolds. We find the character of Astrid in a very stressed state and as she recounts her day to her boyfriend, David. Tilde Jensen and Mitchell Fisher gave great performances and I think our rehearsals prior to shooting really paid off.
TO BE CONTINUED. . .
You Have a New Follower is a very contained story full of enigma, but it hints at a larger scale universe. However, mostly it is an isolated character story about urban paranoia and the fear of being followed and watched. In the subtext it’s also about that existential anxiety we all feel in life and why we sometimes feel afraid and just don’t know why.
The film will now move into post-production and the editing, music and sound production will form a bond to make it another decent low-budget short film. Here’s hoping!
CAST AND CREDITS
Written, produced and directed by: Paul Laight Cast: Tilde Jensen, Mitchell Fisher, Lue Henner Sound: Marina Fusella Cinematography: Petros Gioumpasis, Sakis Gioumpasis Production Assistants: Lue Henner, Melissa Zajk Music: TBC Editor: TBC
After the relative cinematic highs of Avengers: Endgame (2019) and John Wick 3 (2019), I’ve been choosing my battles in regard to the big budget blockbuster movies currently released at the cinema. I’m sure they are very good but I have swervedAladdin (2019) and Rocketman (2019) as they did not appeal to me.
Anyway, I’ve mixed up some of my film viewing choices so far this month with big and lower budget films at the cinema and via online streaming platforms. Here are some mini-reviews with the usual marks out of eleven.
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
MA (2019) – ODEON CINEMA
Like Isabelle Huppert in Greta (2019), another amazing actress takes on the role of a disturbed matriarch figure with terrifying aplomb. Indeed, Octavia Spencer is absolutely brilliant in her role as the seemingly kind but ultimately vicious avenging angel, Sue Ann Ellington A.K.A, ‘Ma.’ The story begins with a casual encounter between some teenagers and Sue Ann. They are after illicit alcohol and somewhere to party. What starts innocently then spirals into a full-on psychological horror movie by the end.
The script slowly builds the tension as Ma’s plan carefully moves from convivial host to the unhinged nutter. I liked that they developed Ma’s character motivation beyond the standard cardboard cut-out pantomime villain. Plus, the levels of gore and suspense were darkly enjoyable. Thematically, the film has some familiar genre tropes such as: the new girl trying to fit in; rebellious teens being taught a lesson; past events creating a vengeful monster; and an element of Munchausen’s by proxy etc. However, these aren’t really developed and are window-dressing to the twisted joy of watching Octavia Spencer go into full “bunny boiler” mode and then some!!
Mark: 8 out of 11
GODZILLA 2: KING OF THE MONSTERS (2019) – ODEON CINEMA
Despite really enjoying King Kong: Skull Island (2017) I wasn’t bothered about watching this sequel to the recent Godzilla (2014), because Godzilla/Gojira is a fundamentally dull creature. I get that it’s a cultural phenomenon in Japan; one that reflects the horror of nuclear devastation; however, on the big screen it’s usually a lumbering lizard which, while presenting a strong visual image, is essentially all about destruction. The first film I found pretty boring with too little of Godzilla to make it very exciting. Thankfully, the sequel goes monster mad and you get four fantastic beasts for your money.
Thus, for sheer energy and the appearances of Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan and Ghidorah, all battling each other at various times, Michael Dougherty and his production team deserve some credit. However, the mistake they made was trying to give the story an interesting human angle. While the cast, including Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga and Millie Bobby Brown, did their best as the dysfunctional nuclear family, they were poorly established, creating an empathy vacuum that just got in the way of the monster stuff. Overall, it’s clumsy B-movie narrative is blown away by the impressive visuals, in a mostly waste-of-budget and ultimately forgettable cinema experience.
Mark: 6 out of 11
EXTREMELY WICKED, SHOCKINGLY EVIL AND VILE (2019) – SKY CINEMA
If you have read or seen anything about the life of infamous serial-killer Ted Bundy, then this psychological drama doesn’t necessarily tell you anything you do not know. Bundy terrorized an abundance of innocent victims across many of the States in America, for much of the 1970s. A conventionally attractive, intelligent and charming manipulator on the outside, he hid a venal desire to attack, assault and murder young women.
Bundy denied these attacks until the very last, as Joe Berlinger’s solid biopic shows Bundy’s actions and character from the perspective of his girlfriend, Elizabeth Kendall (Lily Collins). The film takes a while to kick into gear but when we get to the prison escapes and court cases then the horror of Bundy’s crimes really impacts. Zac Efron is a revelation as Bundy and he owns the screen with a performance of magnetic evil. The final chilling scene where Kendall confronts him through the glass is a particularly memorable exchange.
Mark: 7.5 out of 11
THE PERFECTION (2019) – NETFLIX
This horror film started if off brilliantly. It begins with two talented musicians (Alison Williams and Logan Browning) meeting and taking time out of their schedule to tour rural China. Suddenly, one of them is attacked by a flesh-eating virus and you think so far, so nasty! However, it soon undoes the excellent opening by descending into a non-sensical revenge story full of plot-holes. To be honest the themes exploring: #MeToo and #Time’sUp combined with a critique of toxic-svengali-masculinity were absolutely fascinating. It’s a shame the sub-Cronenberg narrative fell apart by the end, as the gory events unfold with little sense of empathy or logic. Indeed, I’m still baffled what any of it had to do with classical music!!
Executive Producers: Craig Mazin, Carolyn Strauss, Jane Featherstone
Producer: Sanne Wohlenberg
Directed by: Johann Renck
Starring: Jared Harris, Stellan Skarsgard, Paul Ritter, Jessie Buckley, Emily Watson, Con O’Neill, Adrian Rawlins, Sam Troughton, Robert Emms, David Dencik, Ralph Ineson, Barry Keoghan etc.
Composer: Hildure Guonadottir
Cinematography: Jakob Ihre
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
The horror. The human error. The inhumane error. The terror. Meltdown during a safety test. Flaws in the system as ghosts envelop the machine. Science in a brave new world invents progress with which we venture into, only to find we are murdering ourselves.
The terrifying events which took place are chartered with grey, brutalist accuracy. Regular Soviet families live in proximity to a ticking time bomb; believing they are protected by the State. The State trusts the science. The science trusts men to follow nuclear procedures to the letter. But what of pride? What of targets? What price the desire to obsess and force a flawed system?
On that fateful day on 26th April 1986, the nuclear time-bomb exploded. Initially, it was believed it could be contained. The Soviet machine could handle the fallout. Heat. Water. Steam. Graphite. Fire. All conspire to create one of the biggest disasters ever perpetrated against nature.
The Chernobyl nuclear disaster is well documented but for years the alleged truth was covered up. Death toll rose but official statistics stayed low. Naked miners, radiation sickness, blood, pus and falling hair. Style and look was natural and under-stated. Verisimilitude only heightening the horror.
Johann Renck directs with steely commitment from an incredible Craig Mazin screenplay. Jared Harris, Stellen Stensgaard, Jessie Buckley and Emily Watson lead a stirling cast of formidable character actors. The attention to detail in the HBO production is second-to-none. Thankfully the vicarious fear is palpable and I am able to view such events in the comfort of my own home.
We did this to ourselves but it could have been worse. When will humanity learn that we will bring about our own judgement on Earth. The Scientists led by Valery Legazov and composite character, Ulana Khomyuk, fought at length to contain and prevent this ever happening again. Who really believes it won’t? There are approximately four hundred and fifty nuclear power plants in the world. The threat hangs over humanity like a cancer.
I was at school in April 1986. Just sixteen years old. I saw events on the news. Historical dramas such as Chernobyl make real the fear that was there at the time. The site is still poisoned. The exclusion zone remains two-thousand and six-hundred square metres; uninhabitable for twenty thousand year, according to an online source. This event teaches us to never take anything for granted. We have built our own gallows.
1986. Former Soviet Union. Ukraine. Pripyat. Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Disaster. Recovery. Suppression. Lies. Liquidation. Death. Suicide. Exclusion.
WHAT’S IN A NAME? A BRIEF CONSIDERATION OF FILM TITLES
While reviewing the entertaining HBO show Barry, it struck me that I have an irrational dislike of film and TV programmes which resort to using people’s singular names in the title. Why, though? Let’s be honest: it’s not a big deal. So, why does it bother me? To answer this question I decided to a hold a brief whimsical exploration of such titles.
Titles are important. They create the first contact for the audience. They pull you in or push you away before you even know who made the film or who stars in it. I mean, who doesn’t want to watch a film called: Jaws (1975) or Alien (1979) or The Terminator (1984)? Conversely, who wants to watch a film called The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants 2 (2008)?
Obviously, big decisions are made at the title-naming stage of any works. Or are they? I think naming a film after a single name, on the surface, just seems a tad lazy. But, on reflection, using single names for the titles of a film or TV show can be impactful and to the point.
It’s weird, because I don’t mind place name titles at all. In fact, Fargo (1996), is one of my favourite films. The singular title just works. Similarly, so does Chinatown (1974). Fargo, especially, names both a place and the two syllables within the place — ‘far’ and ‘go’ — suggest the actions of the characters in the story. Chinatown, on the other hand, is more poetic; naming a place but also hinting at something exotic and mysterious. Either that or a cultural area where you can visit and perhaps get a certain kind of food.
I also don’t object to personal names being part of the title. For example, Rosemary’s Baby (1968), is such a great title because it’s better than just plain old ‘Rosemary’. What does the singular Rosemary tell us? Very little. But add the ‘baby’ element and you conjure up suspense and a desire to know what will happen to Rosemary and her child. Similarly, When Harry Met Sally (1986), is a simple yet delightful title which tells you the character names, events and we’re most likely to witness some form of romance.
It may be that the film is an adaptation and just named after the original source material. Rebecca (1940), by Daphne Du Maurier is a good example of this. Rebecca works for me though as the name has a haunting feel; and this is certainly confirmed once you read the book or watch the film. On the other hand, the film Carol (2015), feels benign in comparison. Based on Patricia Highsmith’s literary classic, it’s a sumptuous and touching romance, however, the title did not draw me in. It was only when I saw the cast and that it was directed by Todd Haynes, I decided to watch it.
The best singular name film is Rocky (1975). Here is a classic underdog story of a boxer who is Rocky by name and rocky by nature. He’s streetwise but lacking intellect and seems to have literal rocks in his head. He’s scrabbling around trying to make ends meet with a head as hard as rock too. But, because of this he can take the blows and punches and still come back for more. We love the character because he never gives in; he literally rocks!
In conclusion, like everything, there are good and bad examples of film titles. Some singular named titles work way better than others. Titles like: Barry (2018), Dave (1993) and even a fine film like Carol, seem weak to me. Meanwhile, a title like Rocky just works perfectly. Anyway, here are eleven singular named film titles which also fly against my pet annoyance and mostly work really well.